Start Making Sense

Interactive events are all the rage: Entertainers pull guests to the dance floor, fortune tellers bring out the tarot cards, costume and makeup stations are set up so guests can look the part. These are all great ways to involve attendees at an event.

But how can we really engage a person fully into a themed environment? If the guest feels separate from the theme, then we, as event producers and planners, haven't done our job right. The most effective way to draw someone into the event experience is to engage all five senses.


There's no denying that orchestrating what a person sees and when he sees it is the first way to involve a guest at an event. But do you actually know what the guest is seeing? To find out, take a quick mental walk-through of the event. What's on the door, who is in the entranceway? How is the overall lighting? What is the first thing that catches the guest's eye upon entering the main space?

Make sure that everything a guest sees supports your event's objective and theme and that all elements are of the best quality for your budget. Don't forget the importance of details such as tables, chairs, and linen. If these basic elements are left to chance, of inferior quality, or the wrong color, they can do great damage to even the most amazing room visuals.


If the food is not good, that's the only thing guests will remember. Make sure everything served is of the highest quality. Event cuisine does not have to be architectural, trendy, or cutting-edge. It just needs to be very good, whatever the style.

That said, guests today do appreciate a clever touch. Try to tie in the menu with the theme and take chances, even if this simply means coming up with new names for the traditional or putting a small spin on something common.

Taste also refers to the tastefulness of the event. Is it the right theme for the right crowd? Discuss at length with your client the preferences, habits, and expectations of the guests. For the time you are working on that event, your taste in everything you do to create the event should reflect that of the client and his or her event objective.


Sound is something that can attract or repel. Is the event loud? Is it too quiet? What are the servers saying and how are they saying it? These are elements you can control.

"Soundscaping" is another effective method of adding an unexpected element that can immediately draw a person further into the theme. In addition to background music that sets the mood, the sounds of crickets and a babbling brook can be piped into an outdoor-themed event. For an underwater theme, bubbles might be heard from time to time, or, for an outer-space adventure, the sounds of rockets whizzing past.


We don't always think in terms of this, but overall, what texture do you want the event to have? Is it soft, hard, rough, smooth? Just this one question can lead to so many ideas when creating the look and feel of an event.

Then, take it to the next level. What textures are you using? People like to feel things. Touching something makes them feel more a part of the moment. Place items so guests will want to reach out and touch them. For instance, place something such as cold steel next to plush velvet, or a rough wood next to smooth glass.

Don't forget food. That is also an area where texture can enhance enjoyment at an event. When designing a menu, try to have diverse textures -- soft, creamy foods with crisp accents, salads that might have contrasting elements such as walnuts or fruit, or a main course that combines a meat with a soft fish.


The sense of smell powerfully affects our experiences and our memories. It's one reason guests enjoy flowers (just be sure the floral fragrance doesn't clash with that of your food). Candles are another possibility, when appropriate. Incense and essential oils released in the air through heated conductors, such as clay pots, can add to guests' enjoyment of the event. Inves-tigate aromatherapy and the different effects of certain herbs on the senses in order to pair the right scent with your event.

Understanding the fees professional speakers charge is often a confusing challenge. There are no industry standards or guidelines to help gauge the accuracy of fees. Primarily, this is because there are many factors that go into how a speaker sets his or her fee -- experience, reputation, content, quality, production value, demand, and so on. Most meeting planners grapple with judging if a fee is fair and justifiable and setting an appropriate budget to secure the best speaker for their meetings and events.

Recently, I sat down with a select group of speakers and meeting planners for an industry discussion at the Sundance Resort in Utah. We reviewed a wide variety of issues revolving around the use of professional speakers, including fees. Following is some of their input to help make better sense of dealing with speaker fees.

Star power vs. brain power. If your main concern is filling a room, you may want to invest in a celebrity speaker (and pay the high fee). If you're looking for specific issue-oriented content, you will be better served to hire an "industry expert" whose name may not be top-of-mind, and whose fee probably won't break the bank. Generally, the more well known or in demand a speaker is, the higher the fee. Don't fall into the "we need someone famous" trap without thinking it through first. Higher fees may not always correlate with a compelling speech. Look at the celebrity's name draw, speaking experience, production value, and relevance to your group or organization, then determine if they are a value to your meeting. Some planners told us they steer clear of "star power" because they have had bad experiences with expensive celebrities who didn't deliver a quality speech and are too demanding. Others say that it doesn't matter if the celebrities aren't articulate, they're happy with the excitement they create and attendees they draw. The choice is yours.

Look for added value. Ask if anything "extra" is included in the fee. Some planners told us they received free copies of a speaker's books, videos, or audiotapes as part of the fee. Some speakers told us they would be glad to attend a reception, play a round of golf with the CEO, or participate in other aspects of the meeting as part of his or her fee.

There's always room for fee negotiation, right? Well, not always. For instance, if your internal clients really, really want an "in-demand" speaker, they are going to have to agree to that speaker's fee. However, some speakers may consider negotiating their fees in certain circumstances. For example -- some planners have offered multiple bookings or invited the speaker to a meeting that takes place in his or her hometown in order to open the door to negotiations. Remember to keep in mind that fee negotiations -- like all negotiations -- are a give-and-take process. It's not only "what's in it for me" but also "what do I have to offer."

So, what's the draw -- the speaker or the beer? Consider looking at the speaker fee in relation to the entire budget. Many times planners spend more on beer, for example, than they do on speakers. But in the end, people will remember the event for the content (good or bad) -- not the booze or food.

It doesn't cost anything to use a speakers bureau. Most professional speakers keep their fees the same whether you use a bureau or not. Many planners find there are important value-added benefits that a bureau offers over booking direct as well.

Bureaus can significantly cut back your time investment in finding the appropriate speakers by being a source of expertise for the entire industry. They also provide invaluable service while coordinating a contracted speaker, for example securing proper itineraries to ensure a timely arrival of the speaker and facilitating flow of information so that the speaker is prepared for your group. Most importantly, bureaus serve as a source of contractual support, so that if things should go wrong, you have something to fall back on.

Diane Goodman is president of The Goodman Speakers Bureau based in Windsor, Conn. She is author of Survive the Search: A Guide to Finding the Right Professional Speaker. For more information, visit